Caputo starts this chapter off with this question: “Can anything really be taken seriously today as ‘truth’ if it is not science or at least modeled after science?”
And he raises this question especially as it relates to religion and tells us it will be his example throughout although he notes he could just as well used art or ethics—the same issues apply. Has the Enlightenment reduced “religion” to a “fantasy” or type of “neurosis”? His view is not dismissive of the Enlightenment at all. If anyone thinks Caputo is taking some sort of anti-science or anti-Enlightenment stance here, he is not. He writes:
“The view I take here is that the Enlightenment proved too much of a good thing. It largely delivered on its promise to rid us of the hegemony of superstition and absolute monarchy and to replace it with science and civil liberties. Nobody can argue against that. But in the end, it went too far. What the moderns call Pure Reason proved to be a new reign of terror over truth itself, which would elicit eloquent and magnificent howls of pain from the great Romantic poets and philosophers of the nineteenth century. Pure Reason has a low tolerance for anything that is not Pure Reason, which is, I offer, a bit unreasonable.”
Caputo then goes on to note the difference the ancients had regarding “reason” and “wisdom.”
“Greek and medieval thinkers were not against reason by any means, but they had integrated reason into a wider and richer concept, wisdom. Later on, during the Enlightenment, so my argument goes, being rational acquired pride of place, which forced being wise to take a back seat. In the version of postmodernism I am advancing—there are, predictably, many[reasons why], as I will explain—this move was unwise.”
He goes on to note that wisdom was understood to be a love—a desire. A love and desire for the “true, the good, and the beautiful.” Now, it does no good here to simply respond, “Well, that is great—we all should love those things—but that doesn’t make them true or objective. It still means they are subjective and purely reports of inner states of mind and emotion.” This is simply begging the question. It is a waste of everyone’s time—and it’s not an argument—it is just a restatement of one’s already held beliefs. Yawn. We know that already. He notes the importance of wisdom:
“It [wisdom] includes reason without stopping at reason; it includes truth but it does not reduce truth to that which is established by reason, and it does not exclude the good or the beautiful from the true. The true, the good, and the beautiful hang together.”
And that in a nutshell was the totality of my argument for my criteria as to evaluating a narrative’s being “true” or not. If it is not good and beautiful, it cannot be true. And let’s be very clear about something: Any move to interpret or to assert that the above Caputo quote is defective, not true or the incorrect way to see the relationship between wisdom and reason is not (cannot be) based upon any superior fact or piece of evidence—it is an entirely metaphysical/faith-based/narrative-based move, period. So rather than question-begging responses, why the one faith-based move (to keep the fact/value distinction) and not Caputo’s (to remove the distinction)? That is where one would need to make their case. He goes on:
“Wisdom included insight and intuition as well as definitions and arguments (the true); it included action, living well, ethical and political wisdom (the good), not just professorial knowledge; and it included Plato’s idea that a life surrounded by beautiful things promotes the beauty of the soul (the beautiful).”
The early Christian teachers and theologians then came along and agreed with the ancient view of wisdom but offered that not only is God good, true, and beautiful but is the infinite embodiment or very ground of the good, the true, and the beautiful and those elements are derivative as recognized in creation and do not stand alone or by themselves. So to seek God was to seek the good, the true, and the beautiful in its infinite and perfect expression. And arguments for God or the Christian narrative encompassed all those elements and other narratives were thought to succeed or fail based upon how well they could be shown to be good, true, and beautiful. To have asked an ancient, “But did this really happen?” or, “But what are the facts?” as some sort of final or sure way of knowing whether something was “true” or not would have not even been understood. Were those aspects taken into account? Yes. Were they however the final arbiter of truth? No.
This idea of wisdom goes to my prior example of Betty and her “true” mother. The biological “fact” is that only one woman can be her birth or biological mother. That aspect of motherhood is “true.” No one discounts or doubts that—it is the one thing we can all agree upon. But is that the only aspect or even the most important one as to what is “true” here? Certainly not. And recognizing that difference is called wisdom. And here is what modernity did. It said “fine.” But, we can only call one aspect “true”—the “wisdom” aspect we will call subjective preference or opinion and in the new economy the “factual” aspect will take pride of place as the objectively true. However, as can be clearly seen by my example, in most aspects of life, making this move is simply the opposite of being wise. I’m reminded of the “three-strike” laws put into place where judges simply had to do what the “law” and the “facts” demanded and sentence people without the benefit of context or wisdom. The gap between the law and justice is what we are talking about here. Wisdom considers justice. Reason alone can only consider the law, the facts, what “is” rather than what “should” be. And that is the conundrum left to us by modernity and the fact/value distinction.
We should want to live in a world where wisdom means calling the biological “facts” in this context less important and less “true” than the matter of the adoptive (context over nature—ought over is) mother being the one who truly “mothered” loved and cared for Betty. Again, that is called wisdom. It takes context into account; it considers the good and the beautiful in the mix; it makes all three (true, good, beautiful) important. We could also add that this is ultimately what makes something “reasonable.”
It takes reason into account but doesn’t make that aspect alone (let alone a specific western, white, male, and historically situated to a brief time frame, the 17th and 18th Centuries view of reason) the only or final arbiter of what we can consider to be, or call, “true.”